In re the Committed Intimate Relationship of: CHRISTINE AMBURGEY, Respondent, and CHRISTOPHER VOLK, Petitioner.
Volk seeks review of the trial court's denial of his
summary judgment motion in Christine Amburgey's lawsuit
alleging that she and Volk were in a committed intimate
relationship (CIR). Amburgey claimed an interest in certain
property Volk owned based on her and Volk living and raising
their children together for 20 years before separating. The
issue here is whether judicial estoppel precludes Amburgey
from asserting her CIR claim.
she and Volk were still living together, Amburgey filed a
bankruptcy petition in federal court that did not list as
assets any interest in Volk's property or a potential CIR
claim regarding that property. The bankruptcy court
discharged her debts. Amburgey subsequently filed a complaint
alleging that she and Volk had been in a CIR and seeking an
equitable distribution of property from the CIR. Volk
asserted that the omission of the alleged CIR property and
potential CIR claim as assets in the bankruptcy petition
precluded Amburgey's CIR claim under judicial estoppel,
and also asserted that Amburgey did not have standing because
of the bankruptcy. He filed a summary judgment motion on that
issue, which the trial court denied.
subsequently filed a motion to reopen the bankruptcy case and
submitted an amended schedule disclosing the CIR claim. The
bankruptcy trustee later filed a report stating that no
nonexempt property was available for distribution from the
estate, and the bankruptcy court again closed the case.
that the trial court did not err in denying Volk's
summary judgment motion because (1) judicial estoppel does
not apply, particularly in light of Amburgey's amended
bankruptcy schedule that disclosed her CIR claim; and (2)
Amburgey has standing to bring a CIR cause of action because
the CIR cause of action was not the property of the
bankruptcy estate once the bankruptcy case was closed.
Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order denying
Volk's summary judgment motion.
1994 and January 2014, Amburgey and Volk lived and raised two
children together in a house that Volk had purchased before
the relationship began. Volk apparently accrued retirement
benefits during this time. Volk and Amburgey never married
and did not comingle their finances.
November 2013, Amburgey filed a voluntary bankruptcy
petition, which she signed under oath. She filed as an
individual and did not identify a spouse or joint debtor. As
part of the petition, Amburgey filed schedules of her assets
that included small amounts in bank accounts, miscellaneous
personal property, and vehicles. She listed no real property.
The primary debts she listed were $5, 000 owed to the
Internal Revenue Service and over $30, 000 owed on several
real property schedule directed Amburgey to list all real
property in which she had "any legal, equitable, or
future interest, including all property owned as . . .
community property." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 23.
Amburgey stated "None" on this schedule and did not
list an interest in the house where she lived with Volk. CP
personal property schedule directed Amburgey to list
"all personal property ... of whatever kind." CP at
24. The schedule included a specific question about interests
in retirement accounts, and Amburgey marked "None."
CP at 25. She did not list any interest in Volk's
retirement account. The schedule also included a specific
question about "[o]ther contingent and unliquidated
claims of every nature," and Amburgey marked
"None." CP at 25. She did not list a potential CIR
claim against Volk.
bankruptcy court discharged Amburgey's debts in February
2014. No distribution was made to Amburgey's creditors.
The bankruptcy case was closed in March.
moved out of the house she shared with Volk in January 2014.
In 2016, Amburgey filed a complaint asking the court to find
that she and Volk had been in a CIR between 1994 and January
2014 and to order an equitable distribution of the property
from the CIR.
filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1)
judicial estoppel barred Amburgey from asserting an interest
in Volk's property or a CIR claim regarding that property
because she did not list the property or a CIR claim as
assets in her bankruptcy schedules, and (2) she lacked
standing to bring a CIR claim. The trial court denied
Volk's summary judgment motion, ruling that judicial
estoppel did not apply. Volk filed a motion for discretionary
review of the trial court's ruling, which a commissioner
of this court granted. Ruling Granting Review, In re the
Committed Intimate Relationship of Amburgey, No.
49389-6-II (Wash.Ct.App. Jan. 17, 2017).
the parties had filed their opening appellate briefs,
Amburgey filed a motion in bankruptcy court to reopen her
case to file amended asset schedules. The bankruptcy court
entered an order reopening the case.
then filed an amended schedule and marked "Yes" for
the question about "[o]ther contingent and unliquidated
claims of every nature." Smith Deck, Ex. A. For an
explanation, she stated,
Debtor may have an equitable claims [sic] against assets held
as separate property by her partner, Christopher Volk, in the
nature of claims for residential real estate and retirement
funds, all of which would be exempt. Debtor does not believe
these claims existed or arose at the time of her Chapter 7
filing under state law but only upon a dissolution of her
committed intimate relationship that occurred after filing
and discharge. This amendment is for precautionary purposes
in the event the case trustee believes there are CIR assets
that are [the] property of this bankruptcy estate. This case
has been reopened for this purpose.
Deck, Ex. A (capitalization omitted). She also claimed as
exempt from the bankruptcy estate her interest in Volk's
house up to $22, 975 and her interest in Volk's
retirement funds in an unknown amount.
February 9, 2018, the bankruptcy trustee filed a report
stating that "there is no property available for
distribution from the estate over and above that exempted by
law." Smith Deck, Ex. B. On February 27, the bankruptcy
court entered an order closing the reopened case.
filed a motion to supplement the record with the bankruptcy
court pleadings and for this court to take judicial notice of
those pleadings. A commissioner of this court denied the
motion but stated that the court would take judicial notice
of the ...